UCLA’s Reeves Nelson is suspended again
Ben Howland is not willing to give up on Reeves Nelson. Yet.
But UCLA’s basketball coach, speaking in a monotone and occasionally clenching a fist, said Tuesday that Nelson’s behavior lately, especially an incident of laughing on the bench during a recent loss to Texas, caused him to suspend the junior forward for a second time this season.
The suspension is “indefinite,” said Howland, who added that it was unlikely Nelson would be reinstated in time to play for UCLA on Saturday against Pennsylvania at the Honda Center.
Nelson, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder last season, didn’t play in the second half of the Texas game as the Bruins fell to 2-5. Earlier this season, he served a five-day suspension for the same reason, “conduct unbecoming a UCLA player.”
Howland wouldn’t speculate on the length of this suspension.
“I’m not sure,” he said. “There’s a point where enough is enough. Are we there at this point yet? We’ll see.”
Forwards Travis and David Wear and point guard Lazeric Jones were the only players available to the media Tuesday. And while they all said they hoped to see Nelson back on the team, Travis Wear said, “On the court, I don’t know, maybe sometimes he doesn’t put forth 100% effort. He’s a good player and he’s working some stuff out, so I’m not going to talk negatively about him.”
Last season, Nelson played an average of 31.3 minutes per game. Since his first suspension this season, his minutes have dropped to 16.8 per game and he played only 12 minutes against Texas.
Nelson led the Bruins with averages of 13.9 points and 9.1 rebounds last season. He is averaging 5.7 points and 4.5 rebounds this season.
Howland said the situation with Nelson is a distraction and “we don’t need any distractions.”
“It’s tough enough to come together without being distracted,” he added. “It’s a tough situation with the team because many of them are close friends with Reeves off the floor.”
Said Jones, who considers himself Nelson’s friend: “I feel like Reeves wants to be on the team. He’s a passionate guy and sometimes that gets taken the wrong way. I told him last time we support him, whatever he needs, we’re still friends off the court.”
If Nelson is to be reinstated, Howland said he needed to see good behavior consistently.
“The last time he was suspended, when we did bring him back he had the best practice the first day back. In last week’s practices, he was falling back into the same habits,” Howland said.
As he sat on the bench Saturday during the team’s loss to Texas, Nelson was smiling and pointing to people in the crowd who were chanting his name, actions Howland said were “totally inappropriate.”
“There were a couple of other things that occurred during that game that were very much inappropriate,” Howland said. “I’m not the only one who feels this way. My staff, we’ve talked a lot about this. These distractions take you away from coaching and doing what’s best for our team. As talented as he is, no one is bigger than the team. The team comes first.
“That said, this is not a professional deal. This kid’s a kid, turned 20 this summer. It is something we’ve been working on and talking about for quite awhile. When I suspended him the first time and met with him, he was very contrite. Today, when I met with him, he was very reserved.”
Jones said he is suffering pain in his left foot but expected to be ready for Saturday’s game.
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